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CD REVIEW: The Delta Saxophone Quartet - Dedicated to You… But You Weren’t Listening
By Alex Jasperse - 02/26/2008 - 08:13 PM EST

Artist: Band: Delta Saxophone Quartet
Album: Dedicated to You… But You Weren’t Listening – The Music of the Soft Machine [2007]
Label: Moon June Records
Genre: Jazz
Production/Musicianship Grade: 8.0/10
Songwriting Skills: 7.5/10
Performance Skill: 9.0/10
CD Review:

Often referred to as the most important group to have emerged from the English Canterbury Scene in the late 1960s, the Soft Machine’s synthesis of psychedelic progressive rock and jazz-rock, sparked a whole new concoction of creative possibilities. Going on to prove that genre boundaries were mere suggestions, nearly 40 years later their work continues to sound innovative, intricate and distinctively intriguing.

So it should be no wonder that for a band to even attempt tackling the Soft Machine’s impressive catalogue, it would take not only some guts to pull it off successfully… it would also take a tremendous amount of pure talent. And so enters the Delta Saxophone Quartet (DSQ), a group renowned for their global workshops on group improvisation, their work with Kingston University and having a reputation as one of the most innovative jazz ensembles of the past 25 years.

Penning one original on the album, the distant cries of the saxophones soon wash ashore in the opening of “Dedicated,” as the DSQ begins to construct a mysterious soundscape of warm layers that spill over into “Facelift.” Continuing with the sense that something’s being kept secret, hints of what’s to come race across, yet never permit the listener enough time to latch on to anything concrete. But once the baritone sax enters, everything changes. The power of its melodic footprint shakes everything up, and within seconds each member trails off to strengthen its captivating force. Picking up the same velocity a few tracks later, “Mousetrap” continues with more of a post-bop tinge, showcasing the group’s impeccable and immaculate ability to stay together during complex instrumental lines.

As a series of fluttering notes quickly wash past, an almost verbal dialogue opens up between the saxes in “Somehow With The Passage Of Time ...Kings And Queens 33 Years Later,” and come the midway mark, Whyman’s lo-fi filtered solo hits hard with a sonic tidal wave of ever-changing musical lines. Going on to strike a balance between technical ability and poetic phrasing shortly thereafter, “Everything is You” is a reflective ballad that highlights the quartet’s superb control over the attack and decay of their notes that makes their attention to detail so utterly spectacular.

Even to an untrained ear, it’s easy to hear how the DSQ speaks a language that is well beyond the capacity of so many. They are sonic colourists, mixing the melodic with the abstract in pieces such as “Outrageous Moon” and “You.” Yet, at the same time, they beautifully preserve the original feel of the Soft Machine’s works, never straying too far from the boundaries that were already set for them.
Stellar musicianship aside, there are a few things that do detract from enjoyment of the album. With each musician able to communicate so fluidly and effortlessly with their instruments on such a complex level, at certain points it becomes hard not to get lost in what sometimes seems like a barrage of notes. Similar to the disorientation one can get in a room with too many conversations going on at once, while tracks like “Aubade” and “Noisette” are at their core two distinct pieces, it begins to feel like an endless stream of notes after a while, blurring all distinctions between both pieces. 

However, the album doesn’t completely fall subject to the symptoms of ‘complex monotony’ if you look at it as a learning experience that showcases the virtuosity of the group’s interplay and communication skills. “Floating World” and “You,” for example, become lessons in texture, technique and creativity, infusing minimalist and abstract freeform styling with a post-bop melodic vibe, illustrating how only four people can truly create dynamic and innovative sonic statements. While it may seem like information overload at times, through this lens there really are no boring or idle musical moments, and it will consume your attention from start to finish.

While it is difficult at times, if you open your ears to the DSQ, you’ll find that there’s a lot to learn from Dedicated to You… But You Weren’t Listening. Not only have they beautifully reworked selected pieces from the Soft Machine’s catalogue, but it contains some original and spectacular musicianship that is truly breathtaking. This is not music for the fait eared – nor should it be – this is music to develop a relationship with. You may have to work at it before you see anything, but it’s certainly more than worth it …if you just listen.

The Verdict: 8.1/10

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